By Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer, Torah Columnist
Torah Portion: Acharei Mot (Leviticus 16:1–17:16)
As we watched the video footage of the terrible tragedy at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, we were all moved and felt a tremendous sense of loss. No matter what your religious denomination, if you have been to Notre Dame Cathedral, you have felt the grandeur of G-d. And when we saw the spire go up in flames, we all felt the pain of the French people. In the aftermath, the news media carried extraordinary stories of a human chain of clergy and firefighters rescuing important Christian relics; the magnificent stained glass windows and the sanctuary appear to be intact, and most importantly, no one was killed in the fire. It will take many years to restore the church to its glory, but generous patrons have pledged millions of dollars to pay for the rebuilding. This cathedral, which survived the French Revolution and two world wars, has now miraculously survived this tragedy.
I was born with a very serious vascular disease called Klippel-Trennaunay Syndrome. This disease becomes progressively worse as one gets older and manifests itself in different vascular anomalies, from hemorrhoids to vascular disease of the legs. When I was born, the doctors used radiation techniques to limit the spread of this vascular disease, but unfortunately, radiation was not the miracle my parents hoped for; it proved to be the opposite of a miracle and caused me more and more pain as I grew older.
At least, that’s what I thought. These vascular bulges in my legs led me more and more to G-d to try to find an answer for my suffering. I studied the different healing prayers in Talmud and in Kabbalah, and of course in our Torah. All this probing and studying led me to what I believe is the greatest miracle in our holy texts – that is, Mohin de Gadlut.
I realized that, when you pray, you don’t pray with a negativism and the hope that maybe – just maybe – G-d will cure you. But you pray with what the rabbis call the Greater Mind, Mohin de Gadlut. That is, you pray with the faith that your prayer has already been answered.
In Rabbi Menachem Nahum of Chernobyl’s commentary on the Torah, Ma’or Eynayim (The Light of the Eyes), in Parashat Chaya Sara, he teaches that since the power of healing is present in G-d even before illness occurs, when we pray with the Greater Mind, we need to acknowledge that the miracle of healing of every illness is in G-d. And all we have to do is pray with religious optimism that the healing of our disease will manifest itself, if we embrace the miracle of Mohin de Gadlut, that G-d has given to everyone who is born.
The miracle of Mohin de Gadlut shone on the week before the first Passover, when the ancient Israelites had no fear of tying the sacred gods, the Egyptian lambs, to their bedposts; the faith of the Israelites far outweighed their fear of their Egyptian tormentors and taskmasters. I don’t know if the ancient Israelites recognized this incident as an amazing miracle, but in retrospect, we Jewish people do recognize the greatness of this ancient miracle and more importantly, we recognize the power of miracles in our everyday lives. The greatest king of Israel said it best – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Don’t depend on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways. Then He will direct your paths (with miracles.)”
In this week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot, we are told, “You shall observe My statutes and My laws which, if a person do them, he or she shall live by them; I am the Lord.” (Lev. 18:5) Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev comments that the “statutes” are the commandments that have no apparent reason, while the “laws” are the commandments that do have apparent reason. It takes no great courage not to steal or kill. We all understand why these rules are important. But, to follow the “statues” that don’t make sense – this takes real commitment and faith. It requires The Greater Mind. It takes an understanding that the miracle of G-d is all around us.
Our Torah portion clearly reminds us that some people see miracles all around them, whereas others don’t have the ability to see what G-d has placed in front of the little boy or girl as soon as he/she was born. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. Here I was, born with a vascular disease that took over my body at birth. But instead of condemning G-d, I searched and searched for the many miracles that exist in G-d. If the cure for all illness could be found in G-d, then we have the opportunity as human beings to turn to the left or turn to the right and we will find miracles every day and every night. Miracles may have abounded in the Torah, but they continue with great joy thousands of years later, in the great cities of America and the world.
Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer is senior rabbi of Congregation Bene Shalom, Skokie, and president and professor of Jewish Mysticism at Hebrew Seminary, Skokie.